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Costa Message: Forever Italy

A couple of months back, we were in Italy, which in our world is always a nice place to be. Today would be an even better time to be there, because it’s Republic Day, a national holiday to celebrate the end of Italian royalty (except for Sophia Loren, of course).

The ship we boarded in Naples that day was the almost-new Costa Diadema. At a press Neil Palombaconference that week it was made abundantly clear by Neil Palomba, President of Costa Crociere, that his cruise line is first and foremost for Italians and that — while owned by Carnival Corporation — it’s run by Italians.

As they say in Italy…si?

He sounded a little defensive, almost as if he was getting some heat with talk of Costa ships going off to America and China, among other worldly cruise hotspots. More than 60 per cent of Italian cruisers choose Costa and this week the cruise line is showing once again it’s not forgetting its roots.

The press release that announced Republic Day celebrations four times on three Costa ships made a point of saying the ships would be flying the Italian flag. Thinking that the ships must be registered elsewhere (most are registered in tax Diademahavens), we found that all three are registered in Italy. As is the Diadema — you can see its flag modestly displayed halfway up the funnel. 

The celebrations are while the ships are docked at ports in Denmark, Germany and Norway, so we can only assume Costa wants to show the locals what they’re missing by not being Italian…as well as involving the Italian embassies, of course.

This is the 69th June 2 since the Italians exiled the monarchy for its unpopular decision to back Benito Mussolini, the dictator who ruled Italy during the early years of World War II, and it’s 68 years since Costa became a cruise line. They’ve grown old — or up — together, and Costa’s never going to miss a chance to remind Italy’s people.

In the news…

• Chinese ship capsizes on Yangtze River; hundreds feared dead
• New Royal Caribbean sale starts today: up to 30% off fares

Today at portsandbows.com: Tallest of the tall ships

Norwegian Spirit
7 nights
December 5, 2015
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau, St. Thomas, St. Maarten
Inside: $519
Cost per day: $74
www.ncl.com

Corsica Education From The Diadema

Diadema-Ajaccio

AJACCIO, Corsica — The Costa Diadema is responsible for educating. A vehicle of learning. This newest ship in the Costa Cruises fleet of 15 regularly drops passengers off for a day in Ajaccio, a pretty town on the island of Corsica.

That’s where the education starts?

Among the things we didn’t know until getting off the Diadema:

• It is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, behind Sardinia and Sicily (although we probably could have discovered that by studying a map).

• Unlike the other two, it belongs to France…not Italy.

•  Everything that isn’t named Napoleon is named Bonaparte, or so it seems, in honor of its  most-famous son and the large house where he was born has become, as expected, a tourist attraction.

• Corsicans still don’t like the sea that surrounds them because they associate it with invaders (including malaria-carrying mosquitoes) even though none of them exist today.

• The man Corsicans regard as their greatest hero is Pasquale Paoli, the highly educated leader who was defeated by Napoleon, who wrote the island’s constitution and who was far ahead of his time in demanding equality for all, at a time when women were regarded as unequal.

• People came from all over the world to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s birth in 1969 and they ran out of beer — by 10:30 that morning!

Ajaccio-2Corsica today is mostly French and Italian, as you might expect, in what has for centuries been an uneasy relationship. It’s also divided between north and south, by mountains, and that relationship is regarded as “competitive” today. It’s only 50 miles from Italy and its second language (Corsican) is more Italian than French.

Ajaccio is in the south, the capital of the south, and it’s clear that — 200 years after his death — Napoleon is still an industry in the town where he was born but spent less than 10 years of his life. The statue of the famous French emperor is an exact replica of the one over his gravesite in Paris and a regular tourist stop for anyone who comes here on a cruise or a plane.

More and more Europeans are flying in to experience Corsica’s pristine and rugged geography. Green with pine forests, it’s called Ile de Beaute (which requires no translation) and its interior is a magnet for adventure tourists. Complementing that are sandy, unpolluted beaches all the way around the island, and going from the sea to the interior can take longer than it takes to fly to Switzerland.

Approximately 100 miles by 50 miles, Corsica is home to 300,000 residents, and many come from elsewhere. Our guide, Rollie Lucarotti, and her husband boarded their boat in England, sailed here 43 years ago and Ajaccio-Rollienever left. The first book written about Corsica was penned by a Scottish spinster, Thomasina Campbell, after she toured the island on a cart pulled by a pony, and her pockets were deep enough to build a church and a mansion on what is now Rue Miss Campbell.

Besides spectacular scenery and its ability to remain in something of a time capsule geographically, Corsica is also known for its perfume. Legend has it that the perfume is so unique that Napoleon could recognize the island with his eyes closed just by inhaling it.

Just one more nugget of information about Corsica, thanks to a 3,600-passenger vehicle of learning.

Ajaccio-6Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
May 10, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $439
Cost per day: $62
www.carnival.com

Up In The Air With The Internet

Forget about Air France, Air Supply or even Air Jordan. Let’s talk about Air Office.

That’s what you get when you buy Internet time on an airplane, a practice which up until recently was greeted with serious disdain — not to mention wastage of dollars — in this household.

Air office-350Not now.

There are some parameters you have to meet in order to qualify for admission to the Common Sense Department. You have to:

• have $20, or about that
• need Internet access because it will save you time on the ground
• be on a flight of more than a couple of hours
• have an understanding wife, especially if she has $20
• be unlikely to sleep on a plane

This was an American Airlines flight from Barcelona to Miami, on the way back from cruising on the Costa Diadema. There was work to be done. Cruise writing called. So did posting blogs. We are — all of us — so dependent on the Internet to do our jobs that there’s a certain deprivation that accompanies not being connected.

The fee was $19 for the entire flight, which was 10 hours long. And the speed was faster than most cruise ships in our travels.

It was the first time I’d spent an entire shift (eight hours) actually working and communicating with an assortment of sources on the ground, from 39,000 feet…for 4,841 miles…at 536 miles an hour…with the temperature on the other side of the window at 85 degrees…that’s 85 degrees below (F). 

No sleep. No movies. No music videos. No idle chatter. There would be plenty of time for all of that after landing.

And there was, thanks to my $19 Air Office.

Today at portsandbows.com: The state of the cruise industry

Ruby Princess
3 nights
April 26, 2015
Los Angeles, Vancouver
Inside: $119
Cost per day: $40
www.princess.com

Getting To Know Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh statueARLES, France — For most of our lives, the name Vincent Van Gogh was little more than that, a name. We knew he was a painter, perhaps because of jokes connected to his famous last name, perhaps because it had been buried in textbooks we tried hard to ignore. We knew he was a favorite of the art community, of which we have always been non-members.

Well, that was then.

Thanks to a shore excursion from the Costa Diadema, moored an hour down the road in Marseille, things have changed. Here in the French town where he painted some of his finest works and where 125 years after his death he remains something of an industry unto himself, we learned more about Vincent Van Gogh than we ever did in school.

That’s what travel does for you. That’s what cruise-ship excursions do for you. And that’s what Arles and the nearby town of Saint-Remy did for us. It is, indeed, true that you’re never too old to learn.

A troubled man all his life, Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888, just two years before he died. His works — and we’re by no means experts at this — changed dramatically with the bright sunlight of Provence and his paintings reflected that with more brilliant colors, specifically yellow. He even lived in the “Yellow House,” now merely a roundabout long after it was destroyed at the end of World War II. One of his Van Gogh-Starry nightmost famous works — called The Starry Night — is of the night sky illuminated by his yellow paint.

Our guide, Pascale Maisonneuve, happily showed us the Saint-Remy “insane asylum” in which Van Gogh spent 10 months. From the courtyard of what is now a museum adjacent Van Gogh windowto a still-functioning mental hospital, we could see the window of his room. This is where, in 10 months, he painted more than 300 landscapes and subjects, including himself in what is believed to be his last of a series of self-portraits.

His painted selfies, as it were.

Many of his prints are displayed on the walls and on pedestals, and there’s a statue.  His is not a big industry in 2015 (a small fee to get into the museum that on this day has open doors with nobody home), but it’s a regular stop for the tour buses. Guides like Pascale actually get excited at the prospect of meeting the patients of today.

“Welcome,” she said, laughing, “to this crazy place. Yes, yes…the patients are very interested here. They want to participate and it can be very funny.”

On this day, there were no open doors to the hospital and, perhaps alas, no patients. Its most famous patient, who shall live forever on these grounds, was more than enough to satisfy us.

And to teach us, too.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Pearl
5 nights
May 2, 201
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Victoria, Vancouver
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $59
www.ncl.com

Friday file: Cruising On 'Italy’s Finest'

That’s the slogan Costa uses for its new ship, the Diadema, and it gets no argument from the cruising families of Italy. We spent five days on her in the Mediterranean, where the Diadema sails year-round at or close to capacity. Today’s photos demonstrate some of this ship's more interesting features…

Diadema-AjaccioAt two-per-cabin, the Diadema carries 3,710 passengers and is by far the biggest ship of the fleet of 15 in Europe’s biggest cruise line. Fill in the extra beds for three or four per cabin and the capacity jumps to 4,850 passengers.

Hot tub-2One of the first things we noticed touring the ship was how many hot tubs there were, a welcome respite from the cool Mediterranean weather at this time of year. The final count was eight, four of them out over the sides of the ship.

Kids-1Truly a ship-within-a-ship is this playground for kids (and adults who wish they were). Smartly assembled and visually appealing, this part of the Squok Club probably has many “pirates” aboard when the weather’s good.

Gelateria amarilloNo Italian cruise ship would be caught without a place to enjoy gelato and on the Diadema it’s called Gelateria Amarillo, where not only is Italian ice cream on the menu but also cappuccino and crepes. 

Samsara TepidariumIf this looks like a hot spot, that’s because it is. On the Diadema, the spa is called Samsara and parts of it are on four decks (this Tepidarium is on Deck 12) and it’s one of the busiest parts of the ship.

LasersniperSharpshooters are at home in this adult arcade called Lasersniper, where for a few euros you can test your skills and compete with your friends…and trust us, it’s not as easy as it might look.

Nightclub-1
When you’re on the Diadema and your teenagers are whining about the many places they’d rather be, this is where you send them to turn their frowns upside down — their private nightclub, Discoteca Pietra Di Luna.
Family cabinAnd that's a good place for them to be if you're all sharing the same quarters, like a family of five is able to do by booking one of the somewhat-exclusive staterooms like this one, on Deck 2.
Today at portsandbows.com: Holland America's Alaska plans

Star Princess
7 nights
April 12, 2015
San Francisco (return): Santa Barbara, Long Beach, San Diego, Ensenada
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57
www.princesscruises.com

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